Essays, Interviews & More

Passion Play

PW Talks With Robert Goolrick

In Robert Goolrick's second novel, Heading Out To Wonderful (Reviews, Feb. 27; Pub date, June 12), WWII vet Charlie Beale arrives in rural Virginia hoping for a bright future, but gets mixed up with Sylvan, a dreamer married to a wealthy and dangerous man.

What was the inspiration for this novel?

It's based on a true story. When it was told to me 25 years ago, I thought it was the best story I ever heard. It's based on a real person I knew. The novel was also influenced by country music. I grew up listening to songs like "The Prisoner's Song" and "Knoxville Girls," songs that tell a story of men who murder th women they love for no obvious reason. People ask: can love make somebody go crazy? I say it's the main thing.

The setting seems to be an important part of the story.

Nothing happens in a void. I like the idea of passion associated with a place. I grew up in the Valley of Virginia. The landscape is familiar. As far as time, the novel is set in 1948, the year I was born. That's perfectly random.

And movies play an important part?

I have an aunt who adored the movies. She went almost every day. I would say the scenes about the movies are an homage to my aunt. Charlie re-creates himself. Sylvan re-creates herself. There's something fascinating about a self-made woman. I have always been fascinated by transformation.

You also touch on race relations.

I was born at the birth of the civil rights movement. Southerners of that time have an inherent sense of guilt. Writing about it gave me a chance to explore my own sense of guilt, and the chance to do something much more vibrant and free. There's a great canine character in the novel.

Do you have a dog?

I have a wonderful dog, a Sussex spaniel named Preacher. I believe a dog is an intrinsic part of any boy's life, and so I had to include the dog, named after Jackie Robinson.

Are you working on something new?

The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to think I need to write another novel going back into Charlie's past. I didn't [think so] when I started Heading Out To Wonderful, but I do now. Some day. Right now, I am working on a new novel set in 1969 about a little girl who lives ona commune in Virginia. her secret is she can fly.